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Phuket Media Watch: Iran sentences U.S. citizen to death

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Phuket Media Watch: Iran sentences U.S. citizen to death | Thaiger
PHUKET MEDIA WATCH

– World news selected by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

Iran sentences alleged U.S. spy to death
Phuket Gazette / News Wires

PHUKET: An Iranian court yesterday sentenced a U.S. citizen to death on charges that he worked as a spy for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), state-run media reported.

28-year-old Amir Mirzai Hekmati, who was born in Arizona but is of Iranian descent, was arrested in December 2011 on charges he spied on Iran for the CIA. Iranian state TV later aired a video in which Hekmati confesses to the charges, although it is unknown if he was forced to do so.

According to Iranian prosecutors, Hekmati was hired by the CIA in May 2009 to carry out espionage operations in Iran. He previously served as a U.S. Marine in Iraq and Afghanistan where Iran claims he underwent decade-long intelligence training and had access to classified information.

“In this mission I was fooled by the CIA and although I had entered Iran with a mission to infiltrate in the Islamic Republic of Iran’s intelligence systems and to turn into a new source for the CIA, I didn’t want to hit a blow to Iran,” Hekmati said in his confession on state TV.

On Monday, branch 15 of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court sentenced Hekmati to death after being convicted of attempting to infiltrate Iran’s intelligence apparatus in an alleged effort to ‘implicate’ the country in sponsoring terrorism. Under Iranian law, he has 20 days to appeal.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. government is still trying to confirm the reports through the Swiss embassy in Tehran, which represents American interests as the U.S. and Iran have no formal diplomatic relations.

“If true, we strongly condemn this verdict,” Nuland said. “Allegations that Mr. Hekmati either worked for, or was sent to Iran by the CIA are simply untrue. The Iranian regime has a history of falsely accusing people of being spies, of eliciting forced confessions, and of holding innocent Americans for political reasons.”

Hekmati’s family has insisted that he is not a spy and was simply visiting his grandmother.

Nuland urged the Iranian government to grant the Swiss protecting power immediate access to Hekmati. “[We also urge the Iranian government to] grant him access to legal counsel and release him without delay,” she added.

In September 2011, Iran’s Judiciary approved the release of two U.S. citizens who were earlier convicted of espionage and illegal entry. Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal had been sentenced to eight years in prison a month earlier.

Bauer and Fattal were arrested in July 2009 along with Sarah Shourd when they crossed the border in Iraq’s Kurdistan region into Iran. Iranian prosecutors charged them with entering the country illegally and having links to U.S. intelligence, a claim which the defendants and their families have repeatedly denied.

According to the detained Americans, they were hiking in Iraq when they unknowingly crossed the unmarked border into Iran where they were arrested by border guards. Iranian prosecutors rejected those claims, saying there was ‘compelling evidence’ that they were spies.

Shourd was released on September 14, 2010, after 14 months of imprisonment. She was released on a $500,000 bail on ‘medical concerns,’ although no details were provided. Bauer and Fattal were also released on a $500,000 bail although none of them will return to Iran.

Iran claims nuclear plant will be operational by February 1
Phuket Gazette / News Wires

PHUKET: An underground uranium site in southern Iran will be fully operational by the end of the month, Tehran’s top nuclear official told state-run media on Sunday.

Fereydoun Abbasi, who heads Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency, said the nuclear plant in the port city of Bushehr is expected to reach full capacity by the end of the month. The plant was connected to Iran’s electricity grid in September with a capacity of 60 megawatts.

But Iranian officials expect the plant will be able to reach 1,000 megawatts and provide approximately 2.5 per cent of the country’s current electricity consumption. “The Bushehr plant, located along the Persian Gulf coast, will reach its full capacity of 1,000 megawatts by February 1,” Abbasi said, as quoted by the Fars news agency.

International concerns regarding Iran’s nuclear activities have been increasing for decades. While Iran has repeatedly stated that its nuclear program is for the peaceful purpose of providing energy, many countries contend it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

Abbasi, while speaking during a conference in Bandar Abbas, said Tehran had shown the new generation of its homemade centrifuge machines to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in a bid to demonstrate the ability of Iranian scientists.

Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehman-Parast reiterated that the country will never give up its right of uranium enrichment. “The nuclear program of our country is totally peaceful and is a basic right of our nation,” he said.

However, the spokesman said Iran is ready to continue nuclear talks with the international community. “We are ready for the talks. We have always said that we are ready for the talks and have always pointed out that the talks should aim at cooperation between the two sides, that is, to decide to talk for cooperation instead of confrontation,” he said.

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Grim milestone: 3 million Covid-19 deaths worldwide

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Grim milestone: 3 million Covid-19 deaths worldwide | Thaiger
PHOTO: 3 million Covid-19 deaths recorded around the world.

Today marks a grim milestone as the Covid-19 pandemic has officially caused 3 million deaths around the world, and outbreaks are still surging. Over a year into the pandemic, and we are currently seeing over 700,000 new infections and 12,000 deaths per day, with Brazil, India, and France facing growing crises. The 3 million figure reflects official numbers, though many suspect that real totals are much higher, pointing at government cover-ups and early deaths that were not attributed to Covid-19 when the virus was still in its infancy. Still, the official number is overwhelming enough – equal to the population of Kyiv, Ukraine, or the state of Arkansas in the US, and larger than world cities like Lisbon, Caracas, Dubai, Manchester or Chicago. Imagine nearly one-third of the people in Bangkok wiped out, or the entire nation of Armenia or Jamaica.

The World Health Organisation laments the dire condition of the world dealing with the pandemic after 16 months and so many opportunities to prevent the spread with basic safety precautions. Brazil has spiralled out of control, racking up 3,000 deaths a day, nearly 25% of all the Covid-19 deaths in the world in the past few weeks. New variants have been spreading like wildfire throughout Brazil as more dangerous strains have wriggled their way into countries around the world.

In India, the distribution of vaccines has been thwarted by swelling Covid-19 outbreaks and deaths. In New Dehli, 13,000 infections were reported in a day amongst the 29 million residents, but the city only has 178 ventilators available as of Wednesday. Only 1.1% of the populations has been vaccinated, and officials faced criticism of their vaccine exports while so many need jabs domestically. But the UN’s Covax vaccination program, which delivers doses to poorer parts of the world was dependant on India, their biggest vaccine supplier. Covax has distributed about 40 million vaccines in over 100 countries so far, but this worsening situation may prevent shots from being received in up to 60 countries until June.

700 million vaccines have been distributed worldwide, but they have been shipped disproportionately to the wealthier populations throughout the world. In rich countries, 1 in 4 people have been vaccinated, while in poor countries that number is less than 1 in 500. In fact, 87% of the vaccines distributed worldwide have been to wealthy nations, and the delays in India due to increasing Covid-19 deaths will not help close that gap for many months to come.

SOURCE: Sky

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Covid-19 vaccine CEOs say 3rd dose may be needed along with annual jabs

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Covid-19 vaccine CEOs say 3rd dose may be needed along with annual jabs | Thaiger
Stock photo of Pfizer vaccine via Flickr

The CEO for the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccines says it is likely that people will need a 3rd dose of the vaccine and to receive it annually. Albert Bourla, told CNBC, that the booster, or 3rd dose, will be needed less than a year after being fully vaccinated.

“A likely scenario is that there will be likely a need for a 3rd dose, somewhere between 6 and 12 months and then from there, there will be an annual revaccination, but all of that needs to be confirmed. And again, the variants will play a key role. It is extremely important to suppress the pool of people that can be susceptible to the virus.”

Bourla’s comment echoes that of Johnson & Johnson’s CEO when he stated in February, that people may need to get vaccinated against Covid-19 annually, just like seasonal flu shots. Both statements reflect the fact that since the vaccine is new, and testing periods are shorter than most vaccines in the past, researchers are still unclear about how long the vaccine will protect against the virus.

Pfizer says that its Covid-19 vaccine was more than 91% effective at protecting against the coronavirus and more than 95% effective against severe diseases up to 6 months after the 2nd dose. Moderna’s vaccine, which uses technology similar to Pfizer’s, was also shown to be highly effective at 6 months.

Just yesterday, the Biden administration’s Covid response chief science officer, David Kessler, noted that new Covid variants could “challenge” the effectiveness of the shots.

“We don’t know everything at this moment. We are studying the durability of the antibody response. It seems strong but there is some waning of that and no doubt the variants challenge … they make these vaccines work harder. So I think for planning purposes, planning purposes only, I think we should expect that we may have to boost.”

Late last month, the National Institute of Health started testing a new Covid vaccine from Moderna in addition to the one it already has, designed to protect against a problematic variant first found in South Africa. The variant is similar to that of the UK one that has recently made landfall in Thailand.

Recent findings, by The Lancet, however, have stated that the UK variant, known as B117, has a higher reproductive rate than other strains, and it’s more transmissible. However, it refuted earlier reports that the strain is more severe. Meanwhile, Thailand’s health minister is confirming his commitment to making AstraZeneca the nation’s chosen vaccine.

SOURCE: CNBC

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Economy

China grows 18.3%, the only major economy to grow in 2020

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China grows 18.3%, the only major economy to grow in 2020 | Thaiger
PHOTO: China - the second largest economy, and only major economy to grow last year.

China’s economy set a record for growth in Q1, 2021, marking an 18.3% jump in year-on-year figures, the biggest quarterly growth in almost 30 years. China only started publishing growth statistics in 1992, and this drastic increase is the fastest growth recorded since then.

The figures, however impressive, are mainly due to what is called a “low base effect” where the change from a low starting point translates into big percentage statistics. Because of the devastating economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Q1 2020 figures were dismal, allowing the big gain over the last year.

Quarter to quarter, the last 3 months saw only a 0.6% growth, but in the last quarter of 2020 China recorded an economic boom of 6.5% according to the Chinese government. Still, the figures are admirable, as China was the only major economy in the world to achieve growth in 2020. Most of the planet struggled to contain global Covid-19 outbreaks, crippling economies across the globe. But China, now the second-largest economy in the world, managed a 2.3% overall expansion. Even Chinese officials called the impressive statistics “better than we had expected.”

China has been growing in terms of imports and exports as well, with exports expanding nearly 31% and imports up 38% by price over last years.

SOURCE: CNN

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